The Dallas Opera mounted the late Lee Blakeley’s attractive production of Verdi’s final masterpiece, “Falstaff”, based on Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor”.
The cast assembled for the ten principal roles was an extraordinary array of operatic talent, as fine a cast as one can imagine for the work.
Mark Delavan’s Falstaff
Much of Arizona bass-baritone Mark Delavan’s distinguished career is associated with Verdi’s baritone roles, of which Falstaff is one of the most challenging.
A successful Falstaff must make the character’s preposterous vanity believable, including his confidence that he could successfully woo two married women simultaneously (neither of whom welcome his propositions).
[Below: Falstaff (Mark Delavan) has gussied up for his date; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]
Delavan proved to be a felicitous Falstaff, vocally resplendent, adept at the physical demands of the role, and possessing superb comic timing.
Angela Meade’s Mistress Alice Ford
Leading a 15th century Windsor #MeToo movement is Alice Ford, sung by Washington State soprano Angela Meade.
[Below: the Merry Wives of Windsor, Alice Ford (Angela Meade, left), Nannetta Ford (Mojca Erdmann, center, standing), Meg Page (Megan Marino, right) and Mistress Quickly (Stephanie Blythe, center, seated) are surprised that Alice and Meg have received identical seductive letters; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]
One of the most sought after of contemporary artists, Angela Meade brought spinto power and a sparkling delivery to every scene, most memorably when she reveals to the men and women of Windsor what their roles will be in Falstaff’s final humiliation.
[Below: Alice Ford (Angela Meade, left) is surprised when Falstaff (Mark Delavan, right, disguised as the Black Huntsman) embraces her; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]
My previous reviews of Angela Meade’s performances have been in such iconic roles as Norma [Legend Making at the Kennedy Center: Angela Meade’s First Norma – Washington National Opera, March 9, 2013], Matilda [Osborn, Meade and Jenis in Graham Vick’s Mounting of “Guglielmo Tell” – Teatro Regio Torino, May 7, 2014] and Leonora [Review, “Il Trovatore”: Impressive Seattle Opera debuts for Meade, Muehle, Mayes and Sourouzian – January 13, 2019].
Alice Ford is a “change of pace” from the highly dramatic roles with which Meade is usually associated, that demonstrates the breadth of her talents.
Stephanie Blythe’s Mistress Quickly
Of the principals, New York mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe is the cast member that I associate most often with operatic comedy [See Review: Searing Performances by Brian Mulligan and Stephanie Blythe for San Francisco Opera’s First “Sweeney Todd” – September 12, 2015].
[Below: Mistress Quickly (Stephanie Blythe, left) convinces Falstaff (Mark Delavan, right) that the two women he hopes to seduce are pining for his love; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]
Any artist performing Quickly is at an advantage, because Verdi, in Quickly’s encounters with Falstaff, has composed music that breeds hilarity, but Blythe’s (and Delavan’s) comic instincts and Blythe’s strong command of the role’s lower range assured that these encounters were among the performance’s highlights.
Quinn Kelsey’s Ford
“Falstaff” has two major baritone roles, each of whom displays a different form of foolish male behavior. Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey performed the role of Ford, Alice’s husband and Nannetta’s father.
[Below: Ford (Quinn Kelsey), wonders whether his wife has been unfaithful to him; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]
Ford’s aria E sogno? o realta in which Ford ponders the possibility that Falstaff’s boasts that he can seduce Alice might be true, despite its place in a sequence of comic scenes, is one of Verdi’s most intense and dramatic. Kelsey delivered it with a ferocity that won him an audience ovation at aria’s end.
Mojca Erdmann’s Nannetta, Airam Hernández’ Fenton and Megan Marino’s Meg Page
Spanish tenor Airam Hernández and German soprano Mojca Erdmann won audience sympathy as the lovers Fenton and Nannetta. Hernández’ leggiero tenor was enlisted for Fenton’s (beautifully sung) arioso Il labbro il canton estasia, which begins the opera’s enchanting final scene.
[Below: Fenton (Airam Hernández, left) pledges his love to Nannetta (Mojca Erdmann; edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]
Mojca Erdmann’s Nannetta, when answering Hernández’ Bocca bacciata non perde ventura with her ethereal Anzi rinnova come fala luna, charms us with what is arguably Verdi’s most tender expression of love.
Costumed as a fairy princess, Erdmann performed brilliantly in the opera’s Windsor Park final scene.
As part of a large cast of an opera with so many extraordinary roles, the somewhat smaller part of Meg, though a vital presence in the tongue-twisting ensembles, can sometimes fade into the background.
[Below: Mistress Meg Page (Megan Marino, left) has a bit of fun at the expense of the perplexed Falstaff (Mark Delavan, right); edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]
Not so, with the Meg of Pennsylvania mezzo-soprano Megan Marino, whose eye-catching physical appearance and her vocal performance, made her a formidable presence in Windsor’s anti-Falstaff contingent.
Andrea Silvestrelli’s Pistola, Alex Mansoori’s Bardolfo and Robert Brubaker’s Dr Caius
The trio of Falstaff’s disaffected drinking companions were played by Italian-born American bass Andrea Silvestrelli, tenor Alex Mansoori as Bardolfo and tenor Robert Brubaker as Doctor Caius.
[Below: Bardolfo (Alex Mansoori, left) and Pistola (Andrea Silvestrelli, right) joke with Falstaff (Mark Delavan, center); edited image, based on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]
The physical size differences between character tenors Mansoori and Brubaker on the one hand, and the tall and deep-voiced Silvestrelli on the other provided abundant opportunities for hilarious high-jinks, including Silvestrelli’s Pistola’s sweeping gesture picking up Brubaker’s Caius.
[Below: Pistola (Andrea Silvestrelli, standing right) picks up Doctor Caius (Robert Brubaker, held sideways, right) to the delight of Bardolfo (Alex Mansoori, left) and Falstaff (Mark Delavan, seated, center); edited image, basd on a Karen Almond photograph, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]
The high-jinks included a football quarterback to tight end toss (of a suit of armor’s helmet) – an homage appropriate to the city whose Dallas Cowboys play just 20 miles from The Dallas Opera’s’ Winspear Opera House.
Maestro Riccardo Frizza and The Dallas Opera Orchestra
Italian maestro Riccardo Frizza, who has recently assumed a leadership post with the newly established Donizetti Festival in Bergamo, Italy, is internationally recognized for his expertise in the early 19th century bel canto operas, which include masterpieces of Italian operatic comedy by Donizetti and Rossini.
His leadership of The Dallas Opera Orchestra was sprightly and the several fast-paced ensembles – at times involving all ten cast members – were, under his direction, executed flawlessly.
Lee Blakeley’s Production and Shawna Lucey’s Revival
This is my second review of a performance of the late Lee Blakeley’s “Falstaff” production [See A Lovable “Falstaff”: Roberto Frontali Brilliant in Lee Blakeley’s Enchanting New Production – Los Angeles Opera, November 9, 2013].
Texas director Shawna Lucey staged the revival of Blakeley’s work. I have praised Lucey elsewhere for her ability to innovate in a revival, while keeping the spirit of the original production [Review: Santa Fe Opera’s Delightful “Italian Girl in Algiers” – July 25, 2018].
Using the comic talents of the assembled cast, Lucey directed a rollicking, fun “Falstaff”.
I enthusiastically recommend the cast, production and musical performance to both the veteran opera goer and the person new to opera, and suggest that any person with the opportunity to get to a remaining performance, do so.
For my interviews and conversations with Mark Delavan, see: The Dawning of a New Wotan: Interview with Mark Delavan Part 1 and The Dawning of a New Wotan – An Interview with Mark Delavan, Part 2, andSanta Fe Opera’s Sheriff of the Golden West: A Conversation with Mark Delavan.
For my interview with Stephanie Blythe, see: A Champion of Opera and American Song: An Interview with Stephanie Blythe.
For my interview with Quinn Kelsey, see:Rising Stars: An Interview With Quinn Kelsey.